Saturday, January 8, 2011

A holiday in Malta.


I spent the week of Christmas on the beautiful historical island Malta with two Italians. The girl I am currently sharing an apartment with invited me to spend Christmas with her and father in Malta.  I of course took the opportunity to see another place.

Malta is beautiful! Its rich with history and the mythical landscape with ancient stone and traces of old civilisations take you to another time.  Most of the buildings there are from limestone and with its history of Catholicism there are plenty of old churches to explore (one even sporting two works by Caravaggio).  It is also small enough to explore the entire island in a short stay (you can drive from the northern tip of the Island to the Southern tip within an hour), although a short stay is probably not enough to really experience everything.  The people of Malta are wonderful; so friendly and receptive! Most of them could speak Maltese, English and Italian!  On top of that Malta is one of the safest places to live in.

The holiday however did not come without its challenges. Sharing a small hotel apartment with strangers (one being a 66 year old  man), even if they are kind, can be a little overwhelming at times, when they are from another language, even more so.  

My roommate’s father was pretty much the stereotype of the Italian man, he looks like one (not the hot ones, Danny de Vito type), he talks like one and eats like one. His eating and drinking habits, which he dearly tried to enforce on me, dominated his orientation of the trip and most of what his day was about was about planning the next meal (breakfast not included as then it seems eating Panetone and milk is sufficient). When we were driving around in the car for sightseeing, most of the time it felt for me that we were chasing after what we would have for lunch.  For lunch he often made pasta. With this then he would dish up a plate for me the size of a hill of which I have to request in my best Italian to reduce the portion. Against this request he protested with passion: “Ma no tu mangi poco (NO you eat very little)!!! No, tu devi mangiare,aperto la bocca (no, you must eat, just open your mouth wider)”, and then ended it with which is probably the only English expression he knows: “EETSA GOOOOOODHA (it is good)”! This was probably the first time in my life I’ve ever experienced heartburn.

Apart from the food there was the driving challenge. In Malta the steering side of the car is like in South Africa on the right side which of course also required the Italian to drive on the opposite side of what he is used to. This of course led to its fair share of comical events such as him driving up the wrong way around the circle. His daughter sitting next to him becomes all histerical! “PA-PA”, she shouts which then follows with a series of Italian swear words coming from both father and daughter while then breaking out in a fight about his driving abilities.  Every now and then I hear: “MAA-MA MIA, SANTA BERNARDA.... this sentence continues with a series of saint names and other names from the catholic church. After a while I found it best just to listen to my iPod and try not to think of the danger my life could be in.

Tension between father and daughter did not however stay in the car, it spilled into lunch, dinner and every other moment which often led to the girl leaving the room and slamming doors, and leaving me alone with the signore to talk  (all in Italian) first about the difficulty of raising teenagers, then about politics. Do not get him started on the leftist party and the gypsies.  Some of his comments had hints of xenophobia written all over it.   At the least talking politics in a new language pushes you to improve it.

I have not yet mentioned how I was tricked into this holiday.  I was invited to come with, and after I have booked and payed for my plane ticket I was informed that I will have to pay hundred and fifty euro for this holiday.  Don’t get me wrong, I would be happy to pay for my own holiday, but had I known all this, I would’ve booked myself a room far more economical than the one they’ve booked, and then I would’ve at least have my own room. Here I slept on the couch.  This little tension reached breaking point on the 26 December when I was also informed that I must pay for my Christmas dinner, which is 19 euro plus half of the price of the bottle wine we drank which was 10 euro. Once again for me it is not that I am a rat that likes to feed of others, but it’s about the principal of inviting someone or, you know, informing them upfront of all costs involved. This led me to strike up my own argument in the best Italian I could possibly think up in an emotional state. I was pretty close to tears that morning; actually I did break out in tears on my own in the hotel lobby. Anyway, the rest of the day we spent driving around the Island with father and daughter striking up regular arguments while chasing to find an open supermarket to buy food for lunch. The continuous fighting between father and daughter was probably the most exhausting thing as my family never fights, so I am not used to such a life full of drama.

The rest of the week I took a bus and spent it strolling through the cities Sliema and Valetta on my own. Valetta surprised with its almost Spanish type architecture and ancient feel. I also discovered a church that had a Caravaggio in its collection. Also one interesting thing the bus driver told me was that scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean were actually shot in the harbour of Valletta.

In Sliema you can find lots to buy, but it was on the deck looking out on the harbour and Valetta that I started talking to an old man from Wales who told me how years back he was there at the same harbour where it was used as war base camp. This was probably my favourite day as I got to strike up conversations with some Maltese people as well as other tourist. The day also ended with me entering the hotel lobby to find the entire football team from Padova there. Very attractive boys! Pity they were on their way to practise and I was on my way to pack my suitcase to end an exhausting holiday.

I was happy when the week came to an end, nevertheless I am grateful that I got to see Malta and at least I got to practise my Italian language skills. But a warning to all, pick those who you travel with carefully.

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